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Eritreans Risk Organ Harvesting and Death to be Free

Eritreans Risk Organ Harvesting and Death to be Free

By Suzette Standring 

I heard Elsa Chyrum, founder of Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE) in London, speak at the Eritrean Community Center in Boston on January 19, 2013 about the human trafficking of Eritrean refugees in Africa and the Middle East.  Horrifying. This is a transcription of Ms. Chyrum’s speech:


Thank you for coming this afternoon and it is an honor for me to be here with you today. As Dan [Author and Professor Dan Connell of Simmons College] has covered most of the politics and horror stories of our people in Eritrea and Egypt, I would like to extend it a little bit farther and talk about the human trafficking, which starts inside Eritrea and ends just with a question mark.

Eritrea is a country where no human rights are respected, either to the choice of religion, the right to a fair trial, the right to vote in free elections, the right to leave town looking for work and food, the right not to join the army, not to be sexually molested, tortured, beaten for daring to express anything other than a blind subservience to a government that causes the starvation of its own people and forces their underfed bodies to dig for gold and children to join the army while depriving them of an education

There is no freedom of any kind. Eritrea has now become one of the most paranoid, secretive, and repressive nations on earth. It is army and the living conditions in Eritrea that have been the main reasons why people are leaving the country in tens of thousands every year despite the terrible measures taken against those who try to leave.  Young men in the military are expected to serve indefinitely.  Many of them are treated like slaves. They re frequently tortured and executed. How do they leave the country when they are being watched all the time?

For those in the military it usually happens whenever they are assigned to the border area, but many others start from deep inside the country, usually helped by human traffickers who charge enormous amounts of money, but many pay with their lives and because of its high profitability, many high officials in the army are involved in this trade.

For those who can afford it, army jeeps drive them to Sudan’s border. Without anyone to guide you, there is a strong likelihood that the fleeing person will either be captured along the way or shot at the border.  For those who are captured, years of detention in dungeon prisons await them.  If they are young, which is often the case, they are sent back to the military after their sentence ends.

This kind of in-and-out of prison life has become normal to the youths in Eritrea.  In accordance with a shoot-on-sight policy of the regime, they get shot at the border. But as the ever increasing numbers of refugees in the refugee camps in the Sudan testify, it is clear that people are willing to risk their lives to get the hell out of this country as the living is impossible.

For the human traffickers, this has been a gold mine. It starts inside Eritrea where they charge $3,000 to $5,000 U.S. dollars just to get them across the border. This is in a country where the yearly income per capita is estimated to be $549.00 US Dollars.  Even uglier is when the human traffickers discover another way of making money: extortion.

This is done when the unsuspecting refugees are handed over to the highest of bidders from the Rashaida tribe in Eritrea or Sudan. The Rashaida take their human chattel all the way to Sinai at gunpoint. In the Sinai they send them to the Bedouin Arabs where the new arrivals are tortured to get a number of a relative or family member, often in the diaspora, for their extortion business. The family member is told that his brother, sister, niece, cousin or another beloved is in their hands and unless they can pay a certain amount of money, they will be killed.

It started with a few thousands of dollars, now the figures have reached up to $45,000. The horror that these refugees undergo in Bedouin camps in the Sinai have been documented and told by many human rights activists and the refugees themselves: all kinds of torture – rape, electrocution, burning with molten plastic and heated objects, beatings with chains and rods and other objects, organ harvesting, and murder.  Since torture is the main means through which the Bedouin smugglers get the family member with money to pay, it has been recorded many times and broadcasted live in the diaspora.  CNN and the BBC and others have talked to victims and captors on the radio. Nothing has been done to prevent this by any authority.

Men and women are raped.  Women who made it to Israel pregnant have told their stories many times before.  And when it comes to those who couldn’t pay, their lot has been organ harvesting and death.

It’s now believed that over 2,000 could have perished with their corpses buried in the Sinai desert.  Sometimes after the ransom is paid, the Bedouins send their victims to the next group of kidnappers, ensuring more rounds of torture and demand for ransom.

Who to blame?

The Eritrean government gets the biggest share of the blame because its authoritarian greed on the people is causing this mass exodus.  Unless the indefinite military service is stopped there is no way this exodus, especially of the young people, the young adults, will stop.

Evidence is coming out that the government itself is involved in this business directly.  The Eritrean middlemen - so far hundreds of Eritreans are identified not only as sellers to the Rashaida but also as recipients of the ransom money in many parts of the world, including Eritrea.

The Rashaida smugglers, having got immunity from both the Sudanese and the Eritrean governments, are the most ruthless middlemen who make everything happen. With their newly found riches, they can bribe any officials in the Sudan. The Eritrean government remains indebted to them for two reasons. The black market that has become the mainstay of the Eritrean economy depends heavily on the Rashaida and the nation’s notorious arms smuggling.

The Bedouins Arabs are smugglers.  These are the most cruel, brutal and nasty human beings who kidnap, smuggle, rape, torture, beat, harvest organs and demand thousands of dollars in ransom in the lower regions of Eritrea.  The authorities not only have been very slow in processing the refugees’ cases in the refugee camps but have also been unable to provide safety for the most vulnerable in these camps.

It is from these very camps that refugees are being kidnapped by the Rashaida.  It has even come to light evidence that some local Sudanese workers collaborate with traffickers.

It is in the Sudanese refugee camps that Eritreans feel vulnerable.  The police, instead of protecting them, often are found to be conspiring with the Rashaida to kidnap refugees who have no idea of what will befall them.

The Egyptian government has shown little interest in curtailing the human trafficking problem even though these caravans of kidnapped people have to go through hundreds of miles of Egyptian land before they reach their destination.

In fact, these journeys would have been impossible without the active collaboration of the Egyptian police and military Second, it hasn’t shown any interest in freeing the refugees or hostages in the Sinai or punishing the culprits. And third, the government itself has been treating the Eritrean refugees in the most inhuman way.

The Israeli government is unwilling to provide Eritrean refugees - whom it describes as “economic migrants “at best, and “infiltrators” at worst - the refugee status they are seeking.  It has built a fence across the border and passed legislation to allow newcomers into detention centers meant to keep them there up to three years without a trial, with the idea of eventually deporting them en masse.

Since June 2012, Israel has refused asylum seekers entry into its borders except for those who exhibit signs of torture.  They turn them back to Egyptian soldiers who shoot those they see close to the border and subject them to inhuman and degrading treatment.

What is to be done?

(1) Pressure needs to be exerted upon:


  • The UN: Faster services to refugees, better protection, improved security in the refugee camps and surroundings, better coordination with the local authorities, rehabilitation and assistance for victims of human trafficking.
  • Sudan: The Sudanese government must tackle human trafficking in its country, have law enforcement of the border area, deal with corrupt Sudanese border guards and security personnel, and other accomplices to the crime, and to protect the refugees with effective security at the refugee camps.
  • Ethiopia: Although the Ethiopian refugee camps have been the safest, the government can do better in apprehending the middlemen who openly work in these camps, luring many innocents into the traps of the Rashaida.
  • Egypt:  Stop the traffickers and free the victims. Control the Sinai region by putting in better law enforcement and legal actions against the perpetrators. Allow UN access to all the prison and detention centers to visit victims of trafficking and asylum seekers and also, to recognize the hostage and asylum seekers.
  • Israel:  Comply with international laws and norms for refugees and Geneva conventions. Acknowledge those fleeing persecution as refugees, rather than labeling them as infiltrators. Stop detaining asylum seekers without trial. Stop any planned deportation.

(2) Awareness in refugee camps: many of the refugees trapped by Rashaida or the Arab Bedouin never knew what they were getting into before it was too late.  The information they usually get about the outside world is provided from the middlemen themselves. The awareness level is greater now.  It requires greater effort from the UN and Eritreans from the diaspora to come up with a better mechanism on how to inform the refugees about all the horror that they face, and on a timely basis.

(3) Focus on Eritrean middlemen: these rogue middlemen should be identified and their origin traced, and all information regarding them be provided for everyone to see.  Not only to protect potential victims from these butchers but for legal purposes so that they will not find refuge anywhere else in the world.

(4) Focus on the Eritrean government. The Eritrean government should be told to stop indefinite military service and collaboration with human traffickers and arms smugglers or face consequences. The UN body should be bold enough to take this matter into its hands, perhaps through The Special Rapporteur.

(5) The international community, the African Union, the European Union, and the UN:  Condemn these barbaric acts and engage with the countries in the regions – Eritrean, Sudan, Egypt, and Israel.

Thank you very much.


Bio for Elizabeth Chyrum:

Founder and Director of Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE) in London, which has been monitoring the worsening human rights situation in Eritrea and the plight of Eritrean asylum seekers since 2001.  HRCE has documented and exposed the abusive practices of the Eritrean government, whichj appears at the bottom of most assessments of human rights and democratic governance. The organization has raised awareness by advocating, lobbying, documenting and conducting educational research.

Elsa Chyrum financed and directed the documentary, Eritrea: Voices of Torture.  In January 2013 she was designated Woman of the Year by the Asmarino Independent. She has worked with Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and other global organizations. She was instrumental in helping to get the UN Human Rights Council to appoint a Special Rapporteur to Eritrea in December 2012. She was given a Distinguished Medal Award of Excellence from the Eritrean Community for Human Rights and Refugee Protection in recognition for her work in 2009.

( and Elsa Chyrum)

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